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Second Skin

by Alex Whitehall

Second Skin - Alex Whitehall
Editions:ePub: $ 2.99 USDKindle: $ 2.99 USDPDF: $ 2.99 USD

When Jay heads to the university’s learning center for help with his math class, he doesn’t expect his tutor to be tall, dark, and handsome. But Roswell is all that and more, and their instant connection over cult movies, books, and TV shows quickly evolves into dating.

That’s when things get tricky.

Roswell might claim he doesn’t have issues with Jay being trans, but when he’s constantly insisting they “take it slow,” Jay’s not so sure. He’s been hurt before, and he's not going to let it happen again.

But then Roswell reveals that he, too, has a few secrets under his skin.

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Excerpt:

Chapter One

The spring breeze ruffled Jay’s short hair as he followed the brick trail through campus, his messenger bag on his shoulder and the last class’s notes humming in his head.

On a normal day, he would grab lunch before heading back to his dorm. Today, he detoured to the library, home to the various tutoring and help centers.

The front desk directed him where to go. He wasn’t sure if it was commentary about math or about people who needed math help, but math’s tutoring rooms were in the very back, downstairs, in a windowless hall. It was an intimidating location, but the door, covered in brightly colored construction-paper numbers, was cracked open. Jay knocked gingerly, nudging the door to let the guy inside see him when he looked up from the screen.

“Um, hi? I’m looking for math tutoring?”

“Come on in.” The guy spun in his seat and stood.

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He was tall and lithe, with ebony curls, a dark complexion, and green eyes that glittered in the overhead light. Everything Jay wanted.

“How can I help you today?”

Wasn’t it obvious? “I’m here for tutoring.”

“What kind of tutoring are you looking for?”

“There’s different kinds?”

“Sure. Are you just having trouble with the current chapter? Are you struggling with math in general? Is the professor going too fast and you need some extra explanations?”

“Oh.” Wow. He hadn’t thought about it. In fact, he hadn’t really considered getting a tutor until his friend Connor had mentioned it. He wasn’t doing great in the class, but he wasn’t failing. Usually he thought he understood what was going on, but at the end of every section, when he handed in a paper, the grade he got back told him that he was missing something. And it wasn’t that the professor was going too fast. It sort of felt like he was moving too slowly sometimes.

Jay must have spaced out, because the curly-haired cutie in front of him smiled, and damn if that didn’t make him twelve times hotter.

“Well, I can walk you through figuring out what you need. What class are you taking?”

“Theoretical and Philosophical Math.”

The guy laughed, and Jay was ready to bolt until the tutor said, “Sorry! Not laughing at you. You’ve completed my set. You’re the last one in the class to come down for tutoring. Dr. Riahn always gives me the class list to know who to expect. I was wondering if I’d get to meet you.”

Jay stared. Just stared. Everyone else had already come in for help? He wasn’t sure if that made him the smartest in the class or the dumbest. “Oh.”

“Though, I thought . . .” The tutor went over to a filing cabinet and shuffled through, then pulled out a thick folder and a sheet of paper. He skimmed it, his brow furrowing, and his eyes rose back to Jay. “Um, are you Jenna Watkins?”

Jay cringed. “I go by Jay. But, yeah, Jenna’s my given name.”

There was a moment of visible confusion before understanding lit the guy’s face. “Gotcha. Well, let’s take a look at the schedule and see where we can fit you in.”

“Thank you. So, um, you’re the tutor for the class?”

“Yes. I’m the only one who has taken Riahn’s theoretical class. It’s not a requirement. Hell, it’s barely math. I think most math majors go running the other way when they see Borges on the book list.”

“Well, the class doesn’t deal a lot with numbers, that’s for sure. It’s sort of why I took it, but now I’m regretting it,” Jay admitted.

“Don’t worry. We’ll help you figure everything out. It’s not an easy class, but Dr. Riahn is a fair grader, plus coming in for tutoring gets you extra points in his book.”

“Now I wish I’d come in earlier.”

“So do I.” The guy winked. Flirting? Although it looked a little forced. Maybe it was just playful. Yet the smile that went with it . . . “Here are the days I’m in. Any of the times work for you?”

Jay hoped he wasn’t blushing and focused doubly hard on the schedule the tutor had pulled up on the computer screen. Strangers didn’t usually tease him, especially after they found out he’d been assigned female at birth. Well, at least not teasing in a friendly manner. “Um, Monday at seven?”

A few clicks and Jay was entered into next week’s schedule. “Okay. Do you want me to save that time for you every week?”

How he wished that was as much of a come-on as it sounded in his head. “Probably should. I don’t see myself suddenly having an epiphany.”

“Entered and entered. Mondays at seven. I’m looking forward to it.” He held out his long-fingered, slender hand and beamed a smile. “Roswell, by the way.”

Jay accepted the handshake, heat tingling down his arm at the warm, firm hold. “Thank you. I mean, I’m Jay. Which you know. Um, so, I guess I’ll see you on Monday?”

“Yep.” Roswell nodded. “Unless you’re grabbing lunch after this? I get off in five. We could go together.”

Jay clenched the strap of his messenger bag and forced himself not to look down as heat crept up his neck. “Um. If you want. I mean, yes, I’m getting lunch and I’d like you to join me.”

Could he curl into a ball and hide now? Did he have any control over the words coming out of his mouth?

But Roswell’s face lit up. “Excellent. You don’t mind hanging around? I’d sneak out early, but the girl who comes in after me doesn’t have a key. Feel free to pull up a seat.” He gestured to the basic student chair on the other side of the desk. “And tell me to shut up if I ramble.”

“Go ahead.” Jay plopped into the seat and swung his bag onto his lap, fiddling with the zipper. “It’ll keep me from inserting a foot in my mouth.”

“Is that an opening for an inappropriate comment?”

He must be glowing red by now. He thumped the heel of his palm against his forehead. “See what I mean? Jeez, you’d think I could have a normal conversation without making an ass of myself.”

“No, you’re fine! I’m just teasing.” Roswell stood and circled around the desk to casually lean against it. Jay kept his eyes locked on Roswell’s knees, trying to ignore the long, slender legs they were attached to. “So what’s your major?”

Jay shrugged. “Undecided. Though I’m pretty sure I can cut math out of the running.”

“You never know. I’ll give you a full assessment on Monday. Anyway, Riahn’s class is heavy-duty—it’s not anything to judge math on. Trust me, I’ve taken most of the classes.”

“So, a math major, right?”

“Through and through. I actually came here for anthropology, but it’s more fun to study people as individuals.”

“So why not psychology?” Jay’s eyes snuck upward until he was actually looking at Roswell’s face. Roswell was openly studying him, and while it made his heart pound, he didn’t turn away.

“That’s mainly studying screwed-up people. And I’m not great with understanding people. But I want to learn about them. I figured I could become an actuary or do people’s taxes or something, and honestly, I’m good at math. Numbers are the universal language. So what are you good at?”

“Besides fitting my size eights in my mouth?”

Roswell chuckled, shaking his head and tossing his glossy curls. “Yes, besides that.”

“I like drawing, and I’m pretty good at it, but I can’t imagine making a job of it. Unless I plan to make being unemployed a job, you know? And science . . . well, I don’t know which field I’d specialize in, and it takes so many years to get a degree that’s worth anything, right? Unless I want to teach high school, and I think if I went that route, I could become an elementary school teacher instead.”

“So when you say ‘undecided,’ you mean it.”

“One hundred percent.”

“Hey, that means you’re able to do anything. The potential!” Roswell flashed a grin, then a look at his watch. “And we are five minutes closer to lunch.” He gestured, palm up, at the door, and on cue, a redhead in pigtails, thick black-framed glasses completing the ensemble, bounced through. “Right on time, Becky! And we’re out of here.”

Jay didn’t miss the questioning glance Becky tossed Roswell, but he looped his bag over his head and stepped into the hall. Roswell followed, and they went to the cafeteria. There was some brief confusion as they went in different directions to get their food—Jay for the imitation Chinese food and Roswell for the vegetarian platters—but they eventually found each other again and grabbed a table.

“Hey, that doesn’t look half bad,” Jay said, eyeing the salad smothered in cheese, eggs, and some unrecognizable sauce. “Wait, is that a burger?”

“Portobello mushroom, actually.” Roswell folded back the bun to reveal the obviously-not-burger. “And it’s tastier than it looks. Maybe you can try it sometime.”

Jay stabbed his lo mein. “I guess it’s better than eating this shit every day.”

That,” Roswell poked toward Jay’s platter with his fork, “gets old fast. Though I won’t deny sneaking some when they have their veggie stuff out. It’s questionably even vegetarian, but what can I say? It’s a weakness.”

His self-deprecating smile made Jay’s skin warm. “As weaknesses go, that’s pretty tame.”

“Well, good. Or should I be working up to bigger ones?” He took a crunchy bite of salad. “But I must say I love my greens.”

“So you don’t mind that I’m . . .” He tapped his plate with his fork.

“A dirty flesh eater?” Roswell asked with a wink. “No. I don’t like eating animals myself, but I don’t feel qualified to tell people what to do in their dietary habits. Unless you’re a cannibal.”

“No cannibalism here.”

“Glad to hear. Though I will say there are health benefits to a vegetarian diet . . .” Roswell trailed off, and when Jay motioned for him to go on, he grinned, which shouldn’t have made Jay’s pulse race. “It’s lots of lean proteins, and you always get your daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Super healthy as long as you’re eating well-rounded and not, like, cheese pizza and french fries.”

“Wait, that’s not a well-rounded meal?” Roswell’s eyes bugged, and Jay chuckled. “I keeed, I keeed!”

“Jerk.” A moment’s uncertainty before Roswell was grinning again. “I’ll shut up now. Just, when I got here—to college, I mean—I studied what people ate and thought about what I should be eating, and about my previous diet. I swear I’m not fanatical or anything.”

Jay thoughtfully chewed a bite of egg roll. “Sounds like something a fanatic would say.”

“Damn, you’re onto my master plan.”

“To be a fanatic?”

“And convert the rest of the world without them knowing.” Roswell cackled. It was the dramatic cackle that did it. Jay slapped a hand over his mouth so he didn’t choke or spit out egg roll everywhere. Of course, that set Roswell off laughing, which didn’t make it any easier for Jay to swallow what was left in his mouth and clear his throat.

“Jeez! You’re a dangerous man!”

“Who, me? Harmless, absolutely harmless. Mostly.”

Jay gulped down his water and had to catch his breath. “Mostly harmless, huh?”

Roswell waggled his eyebrows. “Mostly.”

COLLAPSE

About the Author

If there are two types of people in the world, Alex Whitehall probably isn't one of them, despite being a person. Their favorite pastimes include reading, horseback riding, sleeping, watching geek-tastic television, knitting, eating, and running. And wasting time on the internet. And spending glorious evenings laughing with friends.

While Alex prefers sleeping over doing anything else (except maybe eating), sometimes they emerge from the cave to be social and to hunt for food at the local market. They can be found blogging, reading, and tending after their aloe plants.


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